The World According to Carr

Cynics say that to explore the depths of South Florida culture, all you have to do is scratch the surface. Dade County archaeologist Bob Carr digs deeper and knows better.

Undaunted, he and Greene continued their digging, growing more sophisticated with experience. The two produced a written field report of their excavations at Brickell Point, borrowing its format from papers they'd seen in Florida Anthropologist. Carr still has a copy, and however fractured its junior-high syntax may seem, it compares favorably with attempts by much more mature researchers to write readable English: "Realizing the rapid approachment of the destruction of the Brickell Point midden site, immediate salvage excavations have been made...." The urgency of that opening sentence says it all. Then as now, the vulnerability of Brickell Point was clear.

One of the more remarkable features of Carr and Greene's Brickell Point paper is the quality of its illustrations. The carefully rendered bone tools and pottery fragments pop right off the page, their textures and shapes captured in perfect perspective. The draftsmanship is Carr's work, a talent that got him his first paying job in archaeology, drawing artifacts recovered from shipwrecks. This was at Florida State, where Carr wound up after undergraduate "meanderings" at the University of Florida, stabs at history and English majors that led to one meaningful realization: "I said, 'Y'know, even if there's reincarnation, I'm only going to remember one life at a time, so I'm gonna do what I want to do.' I decided to transfer to Florida State, and I did so in archaeology."

Carr has been making a living in the field ever since, getting by just fine in a discipline notoriously short on decent jobs. He picked up a series of grad-school contract assignments for the Florida Division of Historic Sites and Properties, beginning with a 1974 study of the tract that would become Arch Creek Park in North Miami. It was Carr's first real excavation, the first opportunity among several he credits to what he has called "archaeological pork-choppery," the strong North Florida bias of an academic establishment based in Tallahassee and Gainesville. The good ol' boys in charge ("They were real Florida crackers," Carr recalls) firmly believed there was no interesting archaeology south of Lake Okeechobee. "They looked at me and they said, 'You know, none of us want to go down to Miami,'" Carr laughs. "Of course, I was more than obliging and excited to go down to Miami."

After earning his master's degree, Carr took a job with the National Park Service, which led to the offer of a two-year stint as park archaeologist at Kentucky's Cumberland National Park. That forced him to make a difficult decision. He had just heard about a job to conduct an archaeological survey of Dade County; it was only a one-year appointment, but it was Dade County. "The project in Kentucky paid $15,000 a year. The project in Dade County paid $12,000 a year," Carr says. "In Kentucky I thought $15,000 sure could go a long way further. But I mulled it over for a few days and realized that my heart was really here, and that this is where I needed to go."

Even though he, his wife, and two-year-old son now live in Davie, an amazing amount of Bob Carr's working life has centered on a single small area in central Miami. The neighborhood he came to when he was eight years old contains both the school where he first got hooked on digging up the past as well as his base of operations today as county archaeologist, behind the massive white columns of the old Warner place (built in 1912) on Fifth Avenue. In structural terms, the old neighborhood hasn't changed much since Carr was a boy; in cultural terms, it has undergone a revolution, from cracker to cubano.

But Carr is still there, admittedly in better accommodations than many of the locals. His airy office on the building's south side brings to mind a giant glass display case housing a jumble of collections: in a plastic bucket, the leg bones of a mammoth; on a filing cabinet, a stack of U.S. Geological Survey maps; on a chair back, an assortment of ties suitable for county commission meetings. And in the center of it all, seated at a table piled high with file folders, the archaeologist himself -- exhibit one.

The chaos swirling around Carr's desk is partly explained by the vacancy in the office across the hall, where the director of the county's Historic Preservation Division normally would work. Carr has been acting as director since Margot Ammidown resigned this past April. The extra administrative responsibility has brought down on him a blizzard of paperwork, and he makes it clear he'd rather be acting less like a director and more like an archaeologist. He's ready to finish the manuscript that sits in a box under his desk, the first of several South Florida books he'd like to write. He wants to be able to put more effort into the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy. Then, of course, there's his more-than-challenging real job: the protection and preservation of a 10,000-year cultural legacy in the middle of a booming metropolis.

Dade County's approach to archaeological preservation takes a page from urban planning, designating areas likely to contain artifacts and burials as archaeological zones. Biscayne Bay, the Miami River, the Little River, Arch Creek, and the Oleta River all are bordered by such zones, a reflection of the high value placed on waterfront property throughout South Florida's history. Outside the archaeological zones, the county's appointed Historic Preservation Board has the power to designate individual properties as archaeologically significant. Inside a zone or outside, any substantial digging in archaeologically important areas requires consultation with Carr's office. Legally he is not allowed to deny outright a permit to dig, but he is charged with setting the conditions under which digging may be done.

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